Monday, July 7, 2014

Sister Mary Melone, first woman to head a pontifical university

Valores Religiosos (English translation by Rebel Girl)
July 4, 2014

She was the first woman to get a permanent position as a professor in the School of Theology of the Pontifical University Antonianum, the Roman university run by the Order of Friars Minor. She was the first woman to be named a dean, which is equivalent to head of a department, and now that Jorge Mario Bergoglio is pope, she is the first woman to become rector of a pontifical university in the Eternal City.

The Vatican Congregation for Catholic Education, headed by Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski for the 2014-2017 period, has named Franciscan Sister Mary Melone, an expert on Saint Anthony of Padua, to run the pontifical university.

Sister Mary (birth name Maria Domenica) Melone was born in La Spezia in 1964. After finishing school with a specialization in Classical Studies, she joined the Franciscan Sisters of Blessed Angelina where she took her temporary vows in 1986 and later professed her perpetual vows in 1991. In 1992, she graduated with a degree in teaching and philosophy from the Libera Università Maria Santissima Assunta (LUMSA) with a thesis on "Corporeity and intersubjectivity in Gabriel Marcel."

She then studied theology at the Pontifical University Antonianum, where she had studied from 1983 to 1987, obtaining a degree in 1996 and then a PhD with a thesis on "The Holy Spirit in Richard of Saint Victor's De Trinitate," published in 2001. She was Extraordinary Professor at the School of Trinitarian and Pneumatological Theology from 2002 to 2008 and director of the "Redemptor Hominis" Institute of Religion.

In 2011, she was elected Dean of Theology. She is currently president of the Italian Society for Theological Research (SIRT). She has published articles and essays in various collections and journals -- Antonianum, Doctor Seraphicus, Freiburger Zeitschrift für Philosophie und Theologie, Italia francescana, Quaderni di spiritualità francescana, Ricerche teologiche, Studi francescani, Theotokos -- and has edited the works of Richard of Saint Victor ("La preparazione dell'anima alla contemplazione: Beniamino Minore" -- "Preparing the soul for contemplation: Benjamin Minor") and Saint Anthony of Padua ("Camminare nella luce: sermoni scelti per l'anno liturgico" -- "Walking in the Light:A Selection of Sermons for the Liturgical Year") for Edizioni Paoline.

"The academic community wishes the new Magnificent Rector, Professor Mary Melone, fruitful work at the Pontifical University Antonianum and extends its gratitude to Professor Martín Carbajo Núñez for the great job he did as Rector Magnificent," reads a message from the university in Via Merulana (Rome).

"I'm not for these kinds of labels, women's theology," Sr. Melone said in an interview with L'Osservatore Romano that was published when she was elected Dean of Theology. "And I'm especially not for contrasting, while not ignoring that perhaps in the past there was reason for contrasting. Maybe even in the present -- I don't know. Certainly, space for women should be more ensured. Talking about women's theology does not properly reflect my view -- there is only theology. Theology as research, as an eye turned toward the mystery, as a reflection on this mystery. But right because this is done with different sensibilities, yes. The way of approaching the mystery, the way in which a woman reflects on this mystery, what is revealed, is definitely different from that of a man. But not for contrast. I believe in theology, and I think that theology done by a woman is typical of a woman. Different, but without making a statement. Otherwise it seems to me almost like manipulating theology, which instead is a field that requires honesty of those who face the mystery. We reflect on the mystery that is given -- it's the mystery that is given, it's not we who seek it. Although I obviously approach it from my reality. All of this can be seen and heard even in our academic environment. Today, the complementarity and richness of the different approaches are more useful than contrasting them. In this sense, maybe it's necessary that space be given. But not only by men. We women find it hard to devote ourselves to theology for many reasons. Usually women don't have a space of their own (except for the Salesians), we don't have pontifical universities. There are many problems that are at the root of this scarce presence of women. But it would be really important, a source of enrichment, if the sisters, and even laywomen, could give their input. Because it's richness. Theology done by women is theology done by women -- you can't say it isn't characteristic! But as complementarity and richness, rather than as a counterpoint or demanding space."

With respect to the role of women in the Church, Sr. Melone said in her 2011 interview that, "I think the steps [forward] are real. Of course, what you see may not be commensurate with the age of the Church, as this reflects a development of thought that has gone on for hundreds of years. But I think the new space is real. And I also believe that it's irreversible in the sense that it's not a concession, but a sign of the times from which there is no return. It's not pretense. I think this depends a lot on us women. We are the ones we should start. Women can't measure the space they have in the Church against that of men -- we have our own space that is neither less nor greater than that of men. It's our space. As long as we think that we should get what men have, it won't work. Of course, even if the steps that have been taken are real, that doesn't mean it's all done. A lot can still be done, but the change is there, if you see it, if you're aware of it. And I think (apart from myself) that the election of a woman in a pontifical university is also a sign of this. The meeting that elected me was all male!"

So the Church doesn't need gender quotas? "No, not quotas, but collaboration. Although we hope that the collaboration will grow!

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